A smooth and rather uneventful Friday night on the PGA Tour took a sudden turn when reports revealed that authorities visited Phil Mickelson this week at the Memorial for an ongoing FBI/SEC investigation into insider trading. Both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal published reports on Friday that Mickelson and high-profile Las Vegas gambler Billy Walters were being investigated for potentially receiving some manner of inside material from finance tycoon Carl Icahn. Mickelson was approached when he finished his first round on Thursday at Muirfield Village just outside Columbus, but reportedly referred the FBI agents to his attorneys. The New York Times added that he was also approached by FBI agents about this last year in New Jersey. None of the three men named in the media reports are currently accused of any wrongdoing.
The investigations have been ongoing since 2011, and focus on what both the NYT and WSJ called a couple "well-timed" trades by Mickelson and Walters for two different stocks. According to the Times, one working theory of the investigation is that Icahn, who was putting together a takeover attempt for Clorox, may have divulged some details to Walters about that bid and Walters then may have passed that information on to Mickelson. Icahn's 2011 Clorox takeover bid ultimately failed, which could make it even more difficult to determine if laws were broken.
A second trade that has come under suspicion involved the moving of stock in Dean Foods by both Walters and Mickelson. Icahn has no connection to that part of the investigation. According to the reports, Mickelson and Walters made these trades in August 2012, just before quarterly earnings reports.
Icahn did acknowledge that he knows Walters, but said he did not know and had not even met Mickelson. The five-time major winner did not comment on the story, which dropped around 8 p.m. ET on Friday as most of the golf world was packing things up after the conclusion of the second round at Muirfield Village. His spokesman also declined comment to Golf Channel, but Phil's attorney, Glen Cohen, told the Wall Street Journal, "Phil is not the target of any investigation. Period."
On Saturday morning, Mickelson did eventually release a statement on the matter, but as you might expect, he did not go into too much detail. "I have done absolutely nothing wrong. I have cooperated with the government in this investigation and will continue to do so. I wish I could fully discuss this matter, but under the current circumstances it's just not possible."
Mickelson was already having a rough year on the course, and this becoming public probably won't make things much easier. The news, of course, prompted a string of FIGJAM jokes on one of golf's best characters and most entertaining players.
Who is Phil Mickelson? pic.twitter.com/W5NlpCP8fz— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp) May 31, 2014
He's tied for 37th place and did make the cut at the Memorial, so he'll have two more rounds and probably plenty of "no comment" style responses over the weekend. This has been one of his worst seasons in recent years, but the expectation was that Phil was loading up to prepare and get everything right for the U.S. Open, the white whale of his career. But this story, with three huge names involved, will probably suffocate much of the coverage leading into that pursuit at Pinehurst in two weeks.